Chapter XIII. The Runaway Boy
 

"Oh, papa, can't we go on to Lake Romano?" asked Nan, as she came up on deck with Dorothy, and saw the big wire fence stretched across the creek to stop them.

"It doesn't look so--unless we can fly over that," and her brother Bert pointed to the metal strands that went from post to post.

"It does seem to hinder us," said Mr. Bobbsey. He was trying to think of what would be best to do. He looked at Mr. Hardee, who seemed to think it all a fine joke.

"Papa, I know how we can get through," eagerly said little Freddie, who was holding Snoop in his arms. The big black cat was almost too much of a load for the little boy, but Freddie wanted her to do some tricks, and he held her so she would not run away.

"I know how to get past that fence," the little twin went on.

"How?" asked his father, rather absentmindedly. "How?"

"Just cut the wires!" said Freddie, as though no one but himself had thought of that. "If I had one of those cutter-things the telephone man had, when he climbed the pole in front of our house, I could cut the wires and we could go right on up the creek."

"Yes, I suppose so, my little fat fireman," said Mr. Bobbsey. "But I don't believe the man who put that fence up there would let us cut the wires."

"It's queer," said Mrs. Bobbsey. "That fence wasn't across the creek before, was it?"

"I don't know," answered her husband. "It looks as though it had been put up lately--even last night, perhaps. But I haven't been along the creek in some time, so I can't be sure."

"It wasn't here last week, that's certain," Captain White spoke. "For I was up here then fishing, and I didn't see it. I fancy that Mr. Hardee knows something about it."

"I shouldn't wonder," agreed Mr. Bobbsey. "Now the question is: What are we to do? We can't go on through the fence, and we can't very well go around it, for the Bluebird won't float on dry ground. And I don't want to go back. This is the only way to get to Lake Romano."

"I know what to do, papa," spoke Flossie. "We can ask that man to take down the wires, if Freddie can't cut them with the cutter-thing."

"Yes, I suppose we could do that," Mr. Bobbsey said, slowly.

By this time Mr. Hardee had come closer to the houseboat, which had drifted near to the shore.

"Will you take that fence down, and let us go past?" asked Mr. Bobbsey, as politely as he could.

"No, I won't!" snapped Mr. Hardee in reply. "No!"

"But we want to go on down the creek," explained the twins' father, "and we can't get past the fence."

"I know you can't!" said Mr. Hardee with a chuckle. "That's what I put it up there for. I strung it last night--me and my hired men. I didn't think you'd hear, and you didn't. Give you a sort of surprise, didn't it?"

"It certainly did," and Mr. Bobbsey's voice was stern. "And I want to say that you had no right to stretch that fence across the creek to stop my boat. You had no right!"

"Oh, yes, I had!" said Mr. Hardee with a sneer.

"This is a public creek," went on Mr. Bobbsey.

"Maybe it is, in certain places," said the mean farmer, "but here the creek runs through my land. I own on both sides of it, and I own the creek itself. If I don't want to let anybody go through in a boat, I don't have to."

"Oh, so you own the creek here, do you?" asked Mr. Bobbsey, rather surprised.

"Yes, I do."

"And you aren't going to let us pass?"

"Nope! That's why I strung that fence last night. It's a good, strong fence, and if you run into it, and try to bust it I'll have th' law on ye!"

"Oh, you needn't worry that I'll do anything like that," spoke Mr. Bobbsey. "But why won't you let us pass?"

"Because of what you did last night--interferin' between me and my help. You wouldn't let me give Will Watson the threshin' he deserved, an' I won't let you pass through my creek. I want you to back up your boat, too, and go back where you come from. I own that part of the creek where you are now."

"Come now, be reasonable," suggested Mr. Bobbsey. "I stopped you from beating that boy only because you were in the wrong. If you'll just think it over, you'll say so yourself. And, just for that, you shouldn't stop my boat from going up the creek."

"Well, I have stopped you, and I'm going to keep on stoppin' you!" cried Mr. Hardee, again shaking his fist. "You can't get past my fence. It's a good strong fence."

"I--I could cut it, if I had one of those cutter-things, the telephone man had," said Freddie, in his clear, high voice.

"Hush, Freddie dear," said his mother. "Leave it to papa."

Mr. Bobbsey was silent a moment, and then he went on:

"And so you strung that fence in the night, and won't let my houseboat pass, just because I stopped you from beating that boy?"

"That's it," the mean farmer said. "And for more than that, too."

"What do you mean?" asked Mr. Bobbsey quickly.

"I mean that you made that boy, Will Watson, run away."

"Run away!" exclaimed Mrs. Bobbsey, in surprise.

"Yes, run away," repeated the farmer. "He didn't come down to breakfast this mornin', and when I went to call him to do the chores, he was gone. And, what's more, I think you had somethin' to do with him runnin' away," went on the angry farmer. "You put a lot o' notions in his head. You're to blame!"

"Now look here!" exclaimed Mr. Bobbsey. "We don't know any more about that boy running away than you do, Mr. Hardee. If he has gone, I'm sorry for him, for he may have a hard time. I'm not sorry I stopped you from beating him, though. Perhaps he is around the farm somewhere."

"No, he isn't!" insisted the farmer. "He's gone. What clothes he had he took with him. He's run away, and it's your fault, too. I put up that fence last night to pay you back for interferin', an' now I'm glad I did, for you're to blame for Will runnin' off."

"I tell you that you are mistaken," went on Mr. Bobbsey. "But if you feel that way about it, there is no use talking to you. Then you won't take down that wire fence and let us pass?"

"No, I won't, and I order you, and your boat, out of my part of the creek. Go back where you come from. You can't go through to Lake Romano this way!"

Mr. Bobbsey turned and looked at the wire fence. It certainly was a strong one, and the farmer and his hired men had worked well during the night. It was far enough off from where the Bluebird then was so that the pounding on the posts, to drive them into the mud of the creek bottom, was not heard.

"Well, I guess there's nothing for us to do but to go back," said Mr. Bobbsey. He felt very sorry, when he saw the looks of disappointment on the faces of the twins and their cousins.

"Papa," said Freddie again, "if I had one of those wire-cutter things, I could snip that wire like the telephone men did."

"Yes, but we haven't one, little fat fireman, and we would have no right to use it if we had," said Mr. Bobbsey. "No, I must think of some other way."

"It's too bad," said Mrs. Bobbsey. "I wonder what has become of that poor runaway boy?" she asked.

"I don't know," answered Mr. Bobbsey. But, had he only known it, Will Watson was nearer than any one suspected.